A History of Its Industries, Railroads and Inventions



Ballston Spa Industries Detailed in News Regionally


Ballston Spa Life


John S. Bulkeley lived in Ballston Spa for many years during the late 1800s and worked as the “Up North” correspondent for the Albany Argus. In 1872 he took a comprehensive tour of the industries along the Kayaderosseras Creek and began writing a series of articles about them. These were published in the Argus over a number of months.

The articles received such a favorable reaction from the reading public around the Capital Region that he decided to compile them into a booklet titled “Leading Men and Leading Pursuits of Ballston and Vicinity.”  

This rare booklet gives a first-hand, rare account of the inner workings of some of Ballston’s most successful businesses. The account below is taken from Bulkeley’s tour of Benjamin Barber’s sawmill and foundry that was once located on the northern extreme of the village off South Street. 

“The Eagle Wood and Iron Works are the next in order. They are carried on by Messrs. Barber and Baker. They stand on the bank, over fifty feet above the dam which furnishes the power for operating their works. The power is conducted by a long shaft up the steep bank, and thereby an immense amount of labor in going up and down the bank is saved. They employ from twenty-five to thirty men.

 “In the wood shed they run one surface planer, a planer and matcher, two moulding machines, and saws and other machinery used in the manufacture of sash, doors, blinds, mouldings, etc. Their machine shop contains five lathes and a planer, with a foundry for making all the necessary castings.  

“Aside from this they manufacture “Barber’s double turbine water wheel,” which is fast coming into use. This wheel is the invention of a practical mechanic of thirty years’ experience, and was made originally for his own use, in his own factory, and to supply a want which he in common with other manufacturers had felt to be a pressing want.  

“Four years of labor and experiment on Mr. Barber’s part have resulted in the production of a wheel which may be said, in its general style and construction, to be second to none, and in its practical operation, superior to any. They claim in the first place that the upper wheel alone is equal if not superior to any other wheel in use. Secondly, that the attachment or reaction wheel adds 15 per cent to the power of the upper wheel, thus placing the result of the wheel far ahead of anything yet accomplished by any turbine.

 “The combination referred to may be better understood by a glance at the cut of wheel accompanying this article. It consists of an upper or principal wheel, so constructed as to take the first effect of the water directly upon the buckets; the angles of the guide chutes and gates being such as steadily to condense the sheet of water as it approaches the wheel, giving the best possible leverage at the moment of impact. The secondary wheel, which resembles a series of propeller blades, receives the water after its assault upon the upper wheel, and while accelerating the discharge by placing the water beneath, at the same time by its retreating and ascending flanges, seizes a certain amount of centrifugal and residuary power. When it is desired to use only part of the power of the wheel, the closing down the gates does not disturb in the least the practical operation of the wheel, but as good a result is obtained at one-half or three-quarter gate as at the full. The hydrostatic pressure which is so troublesome in operating the gates of most wheels is overcome in the Barber turbine by a most simple contrivance, so that the gates are counterbalanced accurately under any hand.” 


Timothy Starr compiled both of John Bulkeley’s long out-of-print booklets “Leading Men and Leading Pursuits of Ballston and Vicinity” and “Leading Industrial Pursuits of Glen’s Falls, Sandy Hill & Fort Edward” into one publication in 2008 and offers it at the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa. Barber’s water wheel is also described in Starr’s book “Invented in Ballston Spa.” For more information, visit www.ballstonhistory.com.